Checks are evil. I’m serious. In a world of electronic transactions, debit and credit cards, direct deposit, PayPal, and online payments, shouldn’t physical checks be a thing of the past?
Yet, I’m amazed at how many checks my wife and I go through. From charitable contributions to school lunches, we write about ten to 15 checks a month. Recently we ordered new checks online, and in the process saved a lot of money on our order. The trick to saving money with replacement checks is simple–don’t order from your bank.
It may seem odd to get checks from somewhere other than your bank. It’s as if your bank has some magical printing press, and the checks will only work if they come from the same financial institution that holds your money. But here’s a little secret–your bank doesn’t print your checks. When you order checks from your bank, they forward the order to a printer like Deluxe or Carousel Checks. They then mark up the cost of the checks to make a profit, even though the only thing your bank has done is to play the middleman.
I’ve found that my bank will charge me nearly double what I’ll pay if I order checks online. So the last box of checks my wife and I ordered came directly from Deluxe (although there are many other options).
Ordering checks online is really simple. All you need are four pieces of information (apart from the name and address you want on the check, of course):
Routing Number: The first piece of information you’ll need is your bank’s routing number. The routing number is a 9-digit number unique to your bank. Each bank in the United States has a routing number that is listed on your check and deposit slip. As you’ll see in the image below, the routing number generally appears on the bottom left of your checks and deposit slips.
If you are unsure of your routing number, call your bank and they will provide it to you.
Checking Account Number: The second thing you’ll need is your checking account number. Your account number is also located on your check and is directly to the right of the routing number. You can call your bank if you are uncertain of this number as well.
Check Number: Third, you will need to know the starting check number. If this is an existing account, you’ll want the check numbers to start where your last check left off (although this isn’t actually required). Keeping your checks sequentially numbered makes record keeping a lot easier. If it’s a new account, I like to start with check 1001. It makes the account look older, and there is no rule requiring you to start at 101.
Check Style: Finally, you’ll need to know whether you want regular or duplicate checks, and what style of check you want. Many of the online check printing companies offer hundreds of styles ranging from football themes to Winnie the Pooh. I stick with plain checks, but having worked at a grocery store as a kid, I can attest to the fact that people have very strong feelings about check design.
In addition to ordering checks online, there are various other banking products you can order online. Such products include check envelopes, check starter kits, continuous checks, and deposit tickets. Some of these items you may actually get for free from your bank, so double check before spending money. But if you have to spend money, it’s a sure bet that your bank is not the cheapest option.
Published or updated November 22, 2011.